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By John Helmer, Moscow

If the presidential election goes ahead on May 25, half the voters of eastern Ukraine will not vote. Of the half who do, half will vote for the frontrunner and US-backed candidate, Petro Poroshenko. The other half will divide between three or four candidates, including the Communist Party’s Petro Simonenko, the former Kharkov governor Mikhail Dobkin, and the wealthy banker Sergei Tigipko. Among the half who don’t like the choice of candidates and don’t want to vote at all, less than half of them support the building takeovers and other semi-military displays of resistance to Kiev.

For eastern Ukraine, this is an outcome of no peace, no war. Except for the fighters on either side of the barricades, it’s also an outcome of no work, no money.

French President François Hollande (image left) has warned of “chaos and risk of civil war” if the Ukrainian election is postponed. He added that Moscow had to be pressured to ensure the vote takes place to elect a president “legitimate in the eyes of all”. But Hollande — with his own problem of how to recover votes from the muscular French right who would defeat him if a French election were called now — already knows the meaning of the Ukrainian poll. No outcome can be legitimate to all.

The new Ukrainian poll was paid for by the Canadian Government. The Kiev-based Razumkov Centre surveyed a sample of 2,012 from all regions, interviewing them face-to-face between April 25 and 29. The Razumkov organization has also been receiving funding, direct or indirect, from Victor Pinchuk, the Dniepropetrovsk steelmaker promoting Ukrainian accession to the European Union. The findings appear not to differ significantly from those of other Kiev pollsters, the Kyiv International Institute for Sociology (KIIS) and the Centre for Social and Marketing Research (SOCIS).

Vladimir Paniotto, who heads the KIIS polling effort, has said his new voter survey results will not be available until the week before May 25. If the US Government-funded voter surveys by the International Republican Institute of March and April are continuing, the results have not been published.

The Razumkov poll results were released in Ukrainian two days ago. The regional breakdown of voter responses have been made available by Mikhail Mischenko, deputy director of Razumkov’s Sociological Service. In the Ukrainian press to date, the focus has been on the results counted nationally. The Russian, European and American media have yet to report on the results for the four eastern regions surveyed (Dniepropetrovsk, Donetsk, Zaporozhiye, Lugansk and Kharkov), and the three southern regions (Nikolaev, Odessa, and Kherson). For earlier polling of these regions, read the backfile.

Asked whether voters want to participate in the presidential election, 66.3% of easterners, 60% of southerners say they are likely to vote.

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On the other hand, when asked what choice of candidate these regional voters will make, between a third and a half say either they won’t vote or don’t know what to do.

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The reluctance to vote at all grows to roughly 50% when the presidential choice narrows to a second-round, two-way contest.

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The outcomes in evidence reveal that unless a representative of the east, like Dobkin or Tigipko makes it to the second round, eastern and southern voters won’t hold their noses and cast ballots. Instead, they are likely not to vote at all – 67.4% in the east, 64.2% in the south. Tigipko (below left) is viewed more favourably than Dobkin (centre), especially in the south. But neither candidate scores so much as 20% on his home turf. Also, the tables show that for the eastern half of the country, Poroshenko (right) barely makes the 30% threshold, and sizeable majorities still refuse to vote.

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By the Hollande standard, there is no “legitimacy in the eyes of all.” On May 7 Putin said the presidential poll is “a movement in the right direction all by itself but they won’t change anything if people in Ukraine do not understand how their rights will be guaranteed after the elections”.

According to the political “road map”, drafted by Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, heading the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and agreed by Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, some form of consultation with the eastern and southern viewpoints should be undertaken, either before the May 25 ballot, or at the same time. The OSCE proposal is for a “nationwide consultative opinion poll on decentralization (in parallel with the elections), which is tied to broad national dialogue, including roundtable discussions in the regions”. The German proposal is for “roundtable discussions” at the regional level and resumption of the four-party Geneva talks.

At his meeting with Burkhalter in Moscow on May 7, Putin said “we support [the roundtable formula] and think that this is a good proposal and we will facilitate it in every way we can.”

In response, the transitional government in Kiev announced on May 8 its “readiness to talk with all who have legitimate goals and are prepared to defend them using lawful means…We invite representatives of all political forces from all regions and civil society to begin a dialogue on all issues and challenges that are facing the Ukrainian people.” At the same time, the Kiev officials say they will continue what they call “anti-terrorist” operations in the south and east.

The Razumkov interviewers asked their eastern and southern regional samples what they think of the political forces now engaged in the conflict, and of the legitimacy or lawfulness of their methods. They started with the question of which armed groups the voters are most afraid.

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The survey was taken just before the fatal fire on May 2 at the Trade Union House in Odessa. Even then it is evident the southerners were more fearful of pro-Russian militants than of the pro-Kiev ones. In the east, there is significantly greater support for the former.

Despite their differences, there is virtually no support in east or south for the return of ex-President Victor Yanukovich. This in turn means that the legality of the methods used to overthrow his government and oust him on February 21 are no longer of voter concern. Relief that Yanukovich has gone is almost the only point on which there is a national consensus uniting the western and eastern regions.

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That leaves the crucial issue on which the Obama Administration remains at odds with the German Chancellery, other European governments, and the Kremlin. This is the question of the legitimacy of violent resistance in the east and south. The Razumkov pollsters asked four questions – one about what has really happened; two about the ideology of the resistance; and one about what should happen next.

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Suspicion of the resistance is more visible in the south; support for it is stronger in the east, but there it remains a minority view.

This pro-Russian minority would shrink in the event that Russian regular forces crossed the border. Support for such an intervention in the east is so small, according to the poll results, that such a Russian force would be isolated, vulnerable to attack, and unlikely to be able to perform a peacekeeping mission. Disclaiming the intention to make such a strategic mistake was easy for Putin to declare on May 7. Western media claims that he thinks otherwise aren’t substantiated by what eastern Ukrainians think.

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When Putin proposed postponing the referendum called by the resistance for May 11, the evidence on his desk was strong that a majority of easterners support postponement. If the secret service polling by the Russians and Americans is as clear as the Razumkov survey, the outcome of the balloting to be held in Donetsk and Lugansk is already irrelevant to the majority of regional voters.

They remain opposed to the use of force by the Kiev government or the national guard it is recruiting from western-region volunteers and mercenaries.

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